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24 days until Seattle!

I really hope I’ll see some rain there. I, like many tea lovers, cat people, bibliophiles, fans of comfy clothing, hermits, and moody Capricorns, love a nice rainy day. And on my one previous trip to the Pacific Northwest I was plagued by sunny days — three in a row. I figure that one cannot be a connoisseur of rain if one has never experienced some Washington and Oregon rain.

Which brings me to April. The Rainy Month. And How I Taught Myself to  Paint Rain.

At first, I had no idea how to do it. So I spent some time looking through art books in the library, observing how many different artists depicted rain. Everyone does it differently, and in order for me to figure out which rain-style was most suitable for my skill level and my personality, I tried a couple different rains — in a rain sampler (above).

On little tiny chips of watercolor paper I did small experiments, copying the many different ways that other artists have done rain. Just to get my feet wet. ha ha.

And then, after I felt some what comfy with myself as a rain-painter, I simply looked at my own window on a rainy day and painted what I saw:

This rain sketch (it’s in my book, same as that rain sampler) is twice the size of the sampler bits. It is a very intricate way to paint rain: drop by drop.

And then it got windy, and the rain looked like this:

Again, it’s a bit elaborate, painting rain drop by drop.

The most wonderful painting of rain I ever saw was 36 years ago, in the National Gallery in London:

This is a painting by the primitive French artist, Henri Rousseau. Totally self-taught, and working as a customs agent by day, Rousseau was thoroughly original — not having had the benefit of an arts education, he was never taught how things should look; he just observed the world, and painted what he saw.

Now, he didn’t actually see this tiger in this jungle — but he’d seen rain often enough. And he did something here, on this canvas, that astonished me when I stood in front of it (it’s a very big painting) and the light raked over the surface of it. You see, what Rousseau did here was to coat the oil paint with a thin colorless veneer, in long slashing strokes. So that, when the light catches on it, the surface flashes with the actual texture of rain. (You can almost see the effect in this photo, down on the bottom edge of the picture. But in person, the effect is dazzling!

And now I can’t stop collecting images of rain (because I still need to find ‘my” way of doing  rain and that’s a trial and error thing…I’m not a genius, you know).

Two weeks ago, in Paris Match, I came across this:

If I ever need to do black and white rain, I’m going to do it this way.

In the April 18 issue of the New Yorker, there was this wonderful illustration by Zohar Lazar:

(It was for a Jonathan Franzen article about birdwatching on some desert island off the coast of Peru.)

This goes in the Rain File for future reference.


(Another Detail:)

And that’s how you teach yourself to paint rain.

I’m still knee-deep in copy edits for my Damn France Book. The copy editor hates me, but really hates the way I use “towards” instead of “toward” and she struck out “Jeeze” and told me I had to write it “Jeez”, and in her opinion, “back yard” is one word, and so is “way station”. But she caught two mis-spellings of “Bayeux” , which would have mortified me if I’d let a book of mine go out in the world with “Bayeaux”.

But  still, I’d rather be edited by a Klingon.

Thank you all for your words of support.  I hope the Damn France Book is worthy of all your goodwill. So the next time I clean up my use of wayward quote marks and haphazard use of the semi-colon, it will be for you.

Unfair criticism: is it better to give, or recieve? Stories, anyone?

12 comments to Trade Secrets

  • Janet

    Edited by a Klingon — one of your best turns of phrase yet. She has a sister you know, and she’s my boss. It’s ironic that only yesterday I looked at the very rain sampler you posted today and I wondered how you did it. Now I know.

  • Deborah

    Jeeze, does the copy editor spell cheese “chees”? She’s a contrarian, for sure. My theory is people in such positions don’t feel like they’re doing their job unless they find something wrong — and finding a LOT of things wrong means they are most excellent at the job. Tunnel vision along the way. No sense of big picture or the fluidity of language. Imagine her trying to edit e.e. cummings or Emily Dickenson. Her head would explode.

  • Rachel

    I am trying to think of her as a copy *suggester.* You have someone, employed for the task, to point out, (although she sure needs to work on tact) the ways your book does not comply with *standard* style. You get to be grateful for the mispellings you would have hated to have appear in the book, make style changes that you go along with (ok, I will just make sure that I always use towards, it is MY style) and leave the rest. It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. You get to choose what to take and what to leave behind, but at least now you know what the choices are.

    Here’s to rain in the northwest.

  • Your rain is better than Rousseau’s. Your rain is best on the page.

  • sallylynch

    I like that idea, copy “suggester”. Toward and towards are both acceptable according to American Heritage dictionary, and jeeze/jeez aren’t even in there, so what difference does it make how that’s spelled – people know what you mean. Hmm, I wonder if she’s using a dictionary at all for her suggestions. I’m really looking forward to having a copy when it’s published. I’ll treasure it like I do the first one you wrote. Here’s to rain on your book trip.

  • Re unfair criticism: I think it’s better to receive it than dish it out. If you receive it, you may indulge in indignation (kinda fun!). If you dish it out, you may arrive at regret (no fun, suspecting yourself to be in the wrong!).

    Send that copy editor some macaroons when she’s finished with your book. It’s worth the goodwill gesture, for “Bayeux” alone…

  • Susie

    Oooooooh, just what I’ve been waiting for, how you paint rain! One of the reasons I fell in love with WWCTR was your rain painting bits!!!

    So, please may I ask, when you painted the individual drops, did you first use masking fluid to keep the white spaces? That’s my burning question about your rain….driving me nuts, actually. I went through many books and couldn’t find anything even close to those drops of yours!

    About the editor from hell….do you HAVE to do what she says or can you ignore her? One of the things we love about WWCTR is that it’s all you, done your way, with your words. Like being with a comfy friend, it’s OK to chew and talk at the same time, ya know?

    Last bit: What do the USS Enterprise (Star Trek ship) and toilet paper have in common? They both hover around Uranus looking for Klingons.
    You have to say it to her it to get it…..

    Unfair criticism is all about the one giving it, it reveals who they are. Let it roll off your back (easier said than done…but worth a try).

  • I just got my corrected thumbnails back from my own Klingon. Boy, do I hear ‘ya! I try to keep telling myself, at least it’s a job. But it usually sends me into an apoplectic frenzy. I think Sarah’s right. It might be better to receive it than to dish it out. Thinking about that makes me wonder, when there were times that I did have to dish it out, if I was able to do it in a nicer way. It is hard to do it nicely, but I’m sure I did.
    Your rain is, by far, better than all the others. In fact, it’s one of the best things you’ve ever done. It captures it exactly.

  • patty

    I just read a library book where the annoying former checker-outer had gone through and (in pen) corrected any grammatical errors! I would much rather get the feeling of the author than have it be exactly perfect English. Misspelling a city, fine, fix that, but all other language should be as the writer wants it.
    Good luck with the rain in Seattle!

  • Well, given the way spring in Seattle has been going you’ll get your rain (watch it go and make a liar of me).

    Does your copy editor use red pencil? I had an editor who used this gorgeous rich purple pencil and I felt so different about the editing – friendly even.

    Right now I’m on the other end of the pencil as it were. I’m editing (for content and style, not copy editing) a friend’s novel and am fearful muffling or not getting her voice, her style. I find it difficult to balance between frank/helpful and untrue/overbearing. Sometimes I’m torn between saying what I really think or leaving well enough alone because what the heck do I know, it’s her book after all. Hats off to editors who are both helpful and graceful in delivering said help.

    I enjoyed the Highland journal (thanks for the suggestion) and then gave it to my mother for her birthday. She’s all but booked the airplane tickets to Scotland. Amazing what adding the right image to words can do. I love words, but add an evocative images and I find that I’m even more moved, transported.

    So, keep up your wonderful work, but also make LOTS of time to play – editing and revising truly are grueling.

    Here’s a story to cheer you up. My wife and I recently had to find a new home for our wonderful brindle boxer dog named Buster. Buster now lives in a home where he is worshipped by a little dog named Rolo and a ruled by a cat. What cracks me up is that the cat has taken to giving Buster regular baths. She holds him down with one paw while washing his face. Buster endures this stoically (he knows who’s the boss) while casting mournful eyes at any human in the room mutely begging for rescue. Now that’s one determined cat – bathing a Boxer. I wonder if its her way of making him hers. Has anyone ever seen that happen with cats and dogs? I hadn’t.

  • Hahaha!! Loved the end of your post. I am so inspired by the rain study… I must try this. And I have a question: Do you have a set time the you sit down to paint most days or do you just work when the mood strikes (I mean when you’re just working for yourself, not for the publishers)? Do you have a studio? You’ve probably already posted about this and I missed it.

  • Cheryl McLaughlin

    i like your rain best. it’s true. i do.

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